Startup Culture: It’s Foolish Not to Know What You’re Getting Into

CEO and co-founder of popular luggage startup Away stepped down amid controversy over her questionable management style. The exposé by Verge detailing Steph Korey’s angry Slack messages to managers ruffled feathers across the organization – how dare a founder demand excellence from her CX team to support upset customers during peak season and how dare leadership fire six individuals who published discriminatory and racist comments on Slack. 

How dare she? 

The Task at Hand: 

Let’s get down to the root of the situation. Spend any time with a founder and you’ll learn pretty quickly these beings live and die by their product and fanbase. They are the only people who can say work has defined their life’s purpose. 

And startups, especially successful ones, aren’t born out of 9/5/5 work weeks and unlimited vacations, they are the glorious fruit of late night calls, missed meals and many, many double espressos. 

Steph Korey often pushed her employees to go above and beyond standard customer care and did not shy from public criticism. This picture of grit may not be fancy nor lavish but it’s the not-so-secret sauce to success.

But when you’re not the founder, can leadership hold employees to the same expectations and rigour? 

The Solution Proposed: 

We start with a quote from an Away ex-employee: 

“Steph has the drive and the personality of someone who could be very successful. She embodies what we all aspire to be. But she does it in a way that’s absolutely not what I want to be.” – Erica 

What way? To the point? Harsh? Public? Frequent? You cannot aspire to embody success and ignore the persistence to reach excellence.

There are two other glaring issues with the exposé that built a lacklustre case against Away (not counting the obviously bias language, ‘cackled’? C’mon, but I digress):

1. Discouraging private Slack channels as a form of suppressed speech. Since when did people stop gossiping near the pantry or over lunch?  


2. Pitchforks were blazed against ‘witch Korey’ from the get-go. What if I had said Korey was a man sending the same messages? The article would likely never see daylight given the forgiveness we’ve granted to the very public bullying by Jeff BezosPeter ThielElon MuskTravis Kalanick, and Maximilian Bittner. 

Korey is far from perfect and the board likely had lined up a replacement long ago but job-seekers need to understand startup founders are a different breed, work is their life. They are the ones pressured to define purpose for others, how can we not expect perfection? 

So before you join an A++ startup, ask yourself…can you run at the same pace? If not, move along.

Liked this article? Sign up for the CAOSE newsletter: https://caose.substack.com/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s